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Starkey Foundation leaders explain how to run a successful hearing care mission

Wright, Debbie; Rondeau, Frederic

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000286506.83967.f3

This practical guide for prospective Good Samaritans complements this month's Cover Story.

Debbie Wright is Executive Director and Frederic Rondeau is Director of International Missions, Starkey Hearing Foundation. Readers may contact Ms. Wright at

To learn more about the foundation and its missions, go to Judith Nemes's feature article “Starkey Foundation's work represents its founder's lifelong philosophy” in the HJ archives, at

In every pocket of the world there are millions of people affected by hearing loss. What traps so many of them in silence is their inability to afford hearing aid devices and the care associated with hearing disability. According to the most recent information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the average lifetime cost of long-term hearing services for one hard-of-hearing person is conservatively estimated to be over $417,000.

Recognizing that for many hearing-impaired persons money is the dividing line between those who can hear and those who cannot, Bill Austin, founder of Starkey Laboratories and the Starkey Hearing Foundation, set out on a mission to help the world hear. Through the charitable organization he founded in 1973, Austin and a team of hearing professionals and volunteers have brought the gift of hearing to children around the world, providing over 200,000 free hearing instruments.

A core component of the organization is its hearing missions. An organized group of audiologists, hearing specialists, and local volunteers band together to bring the gift of hearing to designated communities. To do this, they use monetary donations to provide people in need with new hearing instruments and they educate local professionals to ensure that these people receive long-term care. However, because so many individuals need help, bringing a mission to fruition is no simple matter.

Two sessions at this April's AudiologyNOW! 2007 Convention in Denver addressed the need for hearing services worldwide and discussed key factors leading to successful missions. The goal of our article is to offer some insight into the how-to of mission work, using as a model the successful efforts of the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

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Planning a successful mission trip requires a great deal of foresight and planning, before, during, and after the mission. Through the Starkey Hearing Foundation missions, not only are we committed to breaking the silence for those who live with hearing impairment, but we are also passionate about doing it right by adhering to a code of standards and high ethical conduct.

The code of conduct is voluntary and can be applied to any health-oriented non-profit organization, regardless of its size. For the Starkey Foundation, it is more than a simple adoption of principles; it is the understructure for supporting all its missions.

Missions are made possible by the professional and monetary support given by a group of individuals to the foundation. This special group of hearing care professionals and volunteers not only travels around the world delivering the gift of hearing, but also leaves behind a legacy of trained local professionals to provide awareness and continued care.

The first step in forming a mission is identifying a region where the foundation can make the greatest positive impact on a group of people in need. The Starkey Foundation receives countless inquiries from individuals around the world who have learned of the organization's missions, and it carefully reviews every possible opportunity. The foundation administers all its policies, procedures, practices and activities on a non-discriminatory basis.

A set of criteria is used to evaluate the level of need in a given region, the infrastructure already in place, and the possibility of providing long-term care. Once an area has been identified and a local team established, the foundation works with local health and education ministries to identify potential candidates. Paying careful attention to government regulations and respecting cultural values and practices are essential.

The process involves testing patients' hearing, treating underlying conditions such as ear infections that can contribute to hearing loss, as well as taking impressions for custom earmolds at local facilities. When funding is available, the mission returns to the area with fitting teams to outfit recipients with their new hearing devices. Team members spend time with each patient to ensure the best hearing experience possible.

A factor in the success of the Starkey Foundation missions is making sure the right team is in place to deliver quality services to recipients during and after the mission. Quality services are achieved through an organized network of caregivers, who include both the volunteers who travel to other parts of the world and the local professionals who are available to help with providing services, long-term care, and overall support of the missions' goals.

To ensure that quality care will be available to recipients in the future, the foundation spends time training and working with local professionals so that they are prepared to make adjustments and do routine maintenance. Local professionals are encouraged to further the foundation's goals by sharing their knowledge with other professionals in their country.

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Fundraising is a core component of the foundation. Each year it organizes the “So the World May Hear” Awards Gala, during which sponsors commit to supporting a hearing mission through a silent auction.

At the annual gala, which was held this year on June 23, the Starkey Foundation honors individuals for their significant contributions to humanity and for their commitment to helping the world to hear. There are so many people who need help today. The generosity of people supporting our missions is what has made our outreach so successful and will enable us to continue our work in the future.

Another sponsorship opportunity is Hear-O Angel, which allows donors to sponsor a patient and provide the person with a “hear kit” that includes a hearing aid and earmold. Contributors can also sponsor a mission or become a foundation sponsor. Volunteers are also always needed, and those interested can learn more about taking part by going to

With adequate funding in place, the Starkey Hearing Foundation can embark on a mission to deliver services to people who might otherwise be unable to afford them. Most recently, teams from the Starkey Foundation visited Vietnam, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, bringing with them hearing professionals and hearing aids to help the children in this part of the world and change their life's journey.

By conducting more than 100 missions a year around the world, the organization has not only broken the silence for many less fortunate people, but also changed the path of their lives. Hearing opens the doors to education and opportunity and for many people around the world, receiving the gift of hearing improves not only their auditory experiences but their quality of life as well.

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.